If you have taken a look at the NCAA Hockey schedule, you might notice that there are no games slated for this weekend, which one might assume as the holiday season is upon us. With that in mind, let’s take a look at how things have shaped up so far this year. The Christmas Break is an interesting time for college hockey because it acts as a half-way mark for the season, as well as a one or two-week break for most teams. This time allows for rest, refocus, and can even throw slumping teams right back on track. As for writers, this is the perfect time to make some bold predictions on the NCAA Hockey Tournament, so let’s get to it! Who’s in, who’s out, and who’s on the bubble?
Who’s in? – St. Cloud State
The Huskies have played extremely well this season, earning themselves a top ranking in the NCHC, but most importantly, the top position in the Pairwise rankings. Sitting at 12-2-1 overall, there isn’t much this team has done wrong. Considering their two losses came against #2 Denver, as well as one tie with #6 North Dakota, they don’t really have any blemishes. As both of these teams are conference foes, they will need to step up if they want to capture the NCHC crown. At the very least, an at-large bid seems definite at this point.
Runner-Up – Denver
Who’s out? – Nebraska-Omaha
I will probably eat my own words later in the season, but I’m calling the Mavericks to miss the NCAA Tournament. As of this moment in time, they are the definition of a bubble team, sitting 15th in the Pairwise rankings. Unfortunately, they have a very tough road ahead of them on the back half of the schedule. They face North Dakota a total of four times, as well as a series with St. Cloud State and Denver. They could rise to the occasion, but their current conference record of 2-6-0 doesn’t give me much confidence that they will.
Runner Up – Minnesota-Duluth
Who’s on the bubble? – Western Michigan
Western Michigan is looking good right now, with a 10-8-1 overall record. As a result of competing in the NCHC, their wins typically give them a big boost, while losses usually come against ranked teams and don’t bump them down too far. They need to take care of business in the second half, in which they play ten games against opponents in the bottom half of the NCHC. Unfortunately, they also have to deal with four games against St. Cloud State, which could be an issue.
Runner-Up – Miami
Who’s in – Minnesota State
The Mavericks are the team to beat in the WCHA. This program has been ahead of the competition for the past several years and continues to show it this season. Their only losses came against #1 St. Cloud State, a talented Bowling Green team, and capable Northern Michigan and Minnesota-Duluth squads. This offense is very deadly, only being shutout once, while posting five or more goals on eight occasions. Even if another WCHA squad rises to the occasion and defeats them in the conference tournament, the Mavericks currently come in at 6th in the Pairwise rankings.
Who’s out? – Alaska-Anchorage
Who to choose from in the WCHA? In all honesty, there are probably five or six teams already theoretically out of the NCAA Tournament, unless they would manage to win the conference’s automatic bid. Let’s just go ahead and pick on Alaska-Anchorage. I hate to kick a team while they’re down, but the Seawolves are dead last in the Pairwise rankings, not to mention the WCHA standings. They will likely miss the WCHA Playoffs entirely, meaning an early end to their season. They have only won one game on the season, coming against Lake Superior State. Oddly enough, they battled to a 1-1 tie with North Dakota to open up the season, but it has gone downhill for them ever since. Unfortunately, there are always to rumors about the Alaskan NCAA programs being eliminate due to their high travel costs. Hopefully this season doesn’t do any permanent damage to their longevity.
Runner-Up – Lake Superior State
Who’s on the bubble? – Bowling Green
I still don’t know what to make of this Falcon team. When they show up, they are good. The goalie tandem of Eric Dop and Ryan Bednard has been nearly unstoppable at times. The big question mark is their offensive ability. They have six ties on the season, which begs the question, are they capable of finishing off opponents late in the game? Outside of their one non-conference game with Western Michigan, they are unlikely to face a ranked opponent the rest of the regular season. They also have a great opportunity to ring in 2018 with some confidence, as they are participating in the Great Lakes Invitational. If they can take advantage of their strength of schedule and get a streak going, they have a chance of making the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 1990. They are currently 18th in the Pairwise rankings.
Runner-Up – Northern Michigan
Who’s in? – Clarkson
The Golden Knights have been a bright surprise for this conference. In their previous campaign, they finished 18-16-5, which is fairly respectable. Turn the page to their current campaign and they are just three wins away from that mark, with fifteen games yet to be played. With just three losses on the season, all of those being in nonconference play, Clarkson is in great position to finish in the top sixteen teams in the nation, as well as win the ECAC Hockey Championship(s).
Runner-Up – Cornell
Who’s out? – Quinnipiac
As with the WCHA, there are several teams that fit into this category, but let’s go with a team that technically still has a chance, but one I think won’t be invited to the big dance. If you read my Beginners Guide to NCAA Hockey, you know that I actually chose the Bobcats as my pre-season favorites, but boy I was wrong. Then again, most writers picked Harvard and they were wrong too, but I digress. Quinnipiac has struggled so far this season, early just a 6-10-2 record overall, with only three conference wins. Now other ECAC Hockey teams have had it tough, including RPI and Dartmouth, but the Bobcats had so much potential. For them to be 47th in Pairwise rankings is pretty deflating, and I don’t think they find the momentum they need after the break.
Runner-Up – Dartmouth
Who’s on the bubble? – Harvard
Alright, time to talk about Harvard again. The team that was once ranked in the top ten has now found themselves fallen from good graces. The Crimson have started the season 4-5-1 and need a big rebound heading into the second stretch of their schedule. The reason why I consider them a bubble team is because this is something that they are capable of. They are on a two-game winning streak, but they need to continue this momentum if they expect to be playing more hockey in March. While they do sit at 36th in the Pairwise rankings, I think the Crimson have an outside shot at getting hot at the right time and taking their conference’s automatic bid.
Well, it’s that time of year; the Holiday season is upon us! This is a great time to celebrate with friends and family, but not the best time for college hockey. As many teams release their players for a few days off, the schedule is usually pretty slim. There are only 13 games being played this weekend. Fortunately, there are still a few interesting match-ups to ramble on about. Since it’s their first meeting in NCAA history, let’s saddle up and head west, as Arizona State visits Colorado College.
Colorado College Tigers v. Arizona State Sun Devils
Saturday, 12/16/17 and Sunday, 12/17/17
Puck Drop- 6:00PM (ET) and 2:00PM (ET)
Broadmoor World Arena; Colorado Springs, CO
Let’s just start off by informing you that this series may not be “Game of the Year” quality. Colorado College is a good program that continues to produce positive results, but rarely has the capability to make a strong post-season run. Arizona State is competing in their third season as a Division-I hockey team, as they continue to transition from their former ACHA (club hockey) status. The Tigers are maintaining a record of 7-7-2, while the Sun Devils have managed just a 4-9-3 mark this season.
One would think sitting at 0.500 is nothing special, but it’s important to look at the big picture. Colorado College battles it out with some of the best teams in the country, competing in the NCHC. Although they have only earned three conference victories, those wins came against #6 North Dakota, #23 Miami, and #25 Nebraska-Omaha. Last weekend, they skated to a pair of ties (4-4 and 1-1) against #2 Denver, which really shows their potential. The Tigers are one of those teams that can win on any given night and are capable of holding down the ice against any opponent. They have yet to really break out of their shell, but it could be coming before the end of the season.
The Black and Gold has been riding the hot hand of Nick Halloran, who has 22 points in 16 games played this year. He has been a bright spot, already doubling his production from last year’s campaign. Just a point behind, Mason Bergh is leading his team with 10 goals. Beyond that, the Tigers are lacking true depth. There are only two other skaters on the roster who have scored in the double-digits. Sophomore Alex Leclerc has been holding down their net, playing in all 16 games this season. His 452 saves on the season are good for a 0.913 SV%, as well as a 2.80 GAA.
At the beginning of the season, Arizona State had hoped for a better year. Their record indicates they still have some work to do. College hockey fans need to realize that building an NCAA program is extremely difficult. You have to hire the right staff, recruit the right players, and hope the local community supports the team. It took Penn State five years to build a quality program and now they are a tough competitor every time they take the ice. It may take the Sun Devils some more time, but their hard work should eventually pay off. Currently, they are an Independent team, meaning they do not belong to any major NCAA conference. They should be making this decision within the next year or two, which will provide them an opportunity to expand their brand and move forward.
In terms of scoring, Brett Gruber (3-8-11) and Tyler Busch (5-5-10) are leading the charge. Joey Daccord is their go-to netminder, playing in 15 of 16 games this season, including all four victories. He holds a 0.917 SV% and 3.04 GAA. Daccord has received high praise from scouts, who have compared his style to Cory Schneider of the New Jersey Devils.
The Sun Devils skated well in their last bout, earning a 4-3 OT win against Princeton. Late in the game and down by one goal, Arizona State earned a powerplay opportunity. Head coach Greg Powers pulled Daccord to give them a two-man advantage. Just under a minute on the clock, freshman Johnny Walker scored the game-tying goal with the primary helper coming from Gruber. At 1:47 of the OT period, David Norris ripped a shot that found twine, winning it for the Sun Devils. This type of win shows that this team can overcome adversity and that the players have a “no quite” attitude. They will bring their best effort to Colorado Springs this weekend as they face off against the Tigers.
Players to Watch:
Colorado College Tigers- Sophomore Forward, Nick Halloran; Junior Forward, Trey Bradley; Sophomore Goalie, Alex Leclerc
Fun fact of the day, Trey Bradley is the son of Brian Bradley, who played 10+ seasons in the NHL.
Arizona State Sun Devils- Sophomore Forward, Brett Gruber; Junior Defense, Jakob Stridsberg; Sophomore Goalie, Joey Daccord (Drafted 199th Overall in 2015 by the Ottawa Senators)
The NCAA Hockey season is upon us once again. The cries of “Is it October yet?” have almost been answered. Many teams will begin playing exhibition games this weekend and their seasons will officially drop the puck one week later. College hockey, or #cawlidgehawkey if you want to be like John Buccigross, is becoming an increasingly deep source of professional prospects. Although playing in Major Juniors still seems to be the predominant route to the NHL, collegiate players are no joke. If you don’t believe me, let’s take a look at this quick list:
If you haven’t figured this one out yet, these are all former NCAA Hockey players who have become Stanley Cup Champions with the Pittsburgh Penguins (many of them more than once).
Even if you don’t follow along with college-level puck, check your NHL squad’s roster and I would almost guarantee a few players have come out of the NCAA. The developmental AHL and ECHL are also filled with former college hockey players trying to work their way up the ladder.
If you’re not into NCAA Hockey, it’s totally understandable. There are six different leagues, 60 different teams and over 1,200 individual players (and that’s just at the D-1 level). It may be difficult to dive into at first, but I can assure you it is worth your while. If you want to see grit, speed, talent and passion for the game of hockey all wrapped into one, attend any NCAA game.
Whether this is your first rodeo with college hockey or if you have been around the block a few times, the 2017-2018 season is about to begin. Here is a season preview for the upcoming campaign, which highlights each of the six leagues, as well as lists my predictions for the regular season champions of each organization. Read, enjoy and drop that puck!
Teams – AIC, Air Force, Army, Bentley, Canisius, Holy Cross, Mercyhurst, Niagara, RIT and Robert Morris
Without putting it bluntly, Atlantic Hockey has struggled since its 2004 founding. They are largely undeveloped unlike many other NCAA Hockey leagues, and many of the teams in this league haven’t been able to find much success – especially against out-of-conference opponents.
That being said, there is typically one team every year that appears to be poised to make a good run. This year, that is likely to be either Robert Morris or Air Force. Both squads return quality players and will try to build upon the growth they showed during the previous season. The Colonials will return team leader Brady Ferguson, who put up an impressive stat line of 24-34-58 last year. Meanwhile, Air Force earned a spot in the preseason polls, coming in at 17th. Although this is a positive sign, they will have to prove their worth when the puck drops.
Preseason Favorite – Air Force Falcons
Teams – Michigan, Michigan State, Minnesota, Notre Dame, Ohio State, Penn State and Wisconsin
The Big Ten Conference is still very new to the NCAA Hockey scene, but it has already shown signs of success. After Penn State made the decision to form a D-1 hockey program, the Big Ten decided it was time to flex its muscles a bit and commit to creating a private league for its member universities. Although it was a shame to see the CCHA disband, it was seemingly bound to happen eventually.
This league boasts historic programs such as Michigan, Michigan State and Minnesota, but the past isn’t worth more than memories (we don’t need to talk about all of the championships they have won… it’s a lot). This year, the Big Ten Conference will attempt to prove they are a dominate group among the NCAA. With Notre Dame joining as an affiliate member, the league now has seven teams. Five of those seven teams earned preseason rankings in the top 20, with Minnesota coming in at number three. Could this be the year a National Champion is crowned out of the Big Ten?
Preseason Favorite – Penn State Nittany Lions
Teams – Brown, Clarkson, Colgate, Cornell, Dartmouth, Harvard, Princeton, Quinnipiac, RPI, St. Lawrence, Union and Yale
ECAC Hockey (also referred to as the smarty-pants schools) has been able to stay in the spotlight over the past several years. As a matter of fact, it wasn’t too long ago that Union and Yale hoisted the NCAA Championship in back-to-back years. Cornell, Harvard and Quinnipiac are always strong contenders, while the other schools in the league are respectful in their own right.
It will be interesting to see how well Harvard recharges the batteries after facing key losses this offseason. Graduated seniors Tyler Moy and Alex Kerfoot both chipped in 45 points last season, with the remaining 2017 grads collectively contributing 41 goals, which is a lot of firepower to replace internally. With that said, Harvard should still compete well, but other conference opponents could take advantage of any offensive woes.
Preseason Favorite – Quinnipiac Bobcats
Teams – Boston College, Boston University, Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, UMass-Lowell, Merrimack, New Hampshire, Northeastern, Providence and Vermont
Hockey East Association once again enters the season with very high expectations. They have two teams, Boston University and UMass-Lowell, ranked in the top-five of the preseason poll. Hockey East is a conference that has and will continue to put quality programs in the mix for an NCAA Championship. Many consider this to be the best conference in college hockey, but the emergence of the NCHC has provided some stiff competition.
Make no mistake, Hockey East is still an amazingly talented league. Boston College, Boston University and Providence alone have combined for five championships over the past ten years. The demographics of college hockey are simply changing and other parts of the country, such as Denver and North Dakota, are seeing great success. We will see how this impacts Hockey East teams down the road, but for now, they are still a force to be reckoned with.
Preseason Favorite – Boston University Terriers
Teams – Colorado College, Denver, Miami, Minnesota-Duluth, North Dakota, Omaha, St. Cloud State and Western Michigan
As a college hockey fan, you either love the NCHC or you hate it. One way or the other, you must recognize the level of talent they acquired when they emerged as an NCAA Hockey league. They have five teams represented in the preseason poll, with Denver taking home top honors (if you consider a preseason ranking an honor). They have also brought home two NCAA Championships in as many years courtesy of Denver and North Dakota.
To put it simply, these teams are good.
No, they are great. There is no tip-toeing around the subject. The NCHC did exactly what they set out to do, which was create the most highly skilled, competitive and talented league in the NCAA. Are they the best? That is up for you as a fan to decide, but their early body of work speaks for itself. Keep an eye on the National Collegiate Hockey Conference to see if their master plan will continue to be a success or if they will take a step back this season.
Preseason Favorite – Denver Pioneers
Teams – Alabama-Huntsville, Alaska, Alaska-Anchorage, Bemidji State, Bowling Green, Ferris State, Lake Superior State, Michigan Tech, Minnesota State and Northern Michigan
Last, but certainly not least, the Western Collegiate Hockey Conference. As a graduate of Bowling Green State University, I can assure you I am very well-rounded in my knowledge of this league. The WCHA is probably one of the most divided leagues in the NCAA. Any given season, Ferris State, Michigan Tech and Minnesota State are prepared to make strong postseason runs. Other teams in the league, such as Bowling Green, have the potential, but have never taken a serious step forward. On the other side of the coin, both Alaskan schools continually struggle and Alabama-Huntsville is still trying to turn in a successful season after their move to the D-1 level.
The last time a current member of the WCHA won a national championship was Lake Superior back in 1994… I don’t want to upset Lake Superior fans, but they are not the team they once were. Then again, you could say the same for Bowling Green, Ferris State, or Northern Michigan. I have a soft spot for the WCHA and hopefully a few of the teams at the top can regain some national prominence for the entire league.
Friday night marked Day 1 of the 2017 NHL Entry Draft and a record (welcome again Vegas Golden Knights) 31 players were selected in the 1st Round. In case you missed any of the action, here’s how it all broke down.
2017 NHL Entry Draft– Round 1
New Jersey Devils–> C Nico Hischier, Halifax (QMJHL)
Philadelphia Flyers–> C Nolan Patrick, Brandon (OHL)
Dallas Stars–> D Miro Heiskanen, HIFK, (Finland)
Colorado Avalanche–> D Cale Makar, Brooks (AJHL)
Vancouver Canucks–> C Elias Pettersson, Timra (SWE-2)
Vegas Golden Knights–> C Cody Glass, Portland (WHL)
New York Rangers (from Arizona)–> C Lias Andersson, HV71 (Sweden)
Buffalo Sabres–> C Casey Mittelstadt, Eden Prairie (HS-MN)
Detroit Red Wings–> C Michael Rasmussen, Tri-City (WHL)
Arizona Coyotes (from Minnesota)–> D Pierre-Olivier Joseph, Charlottetown (QMJHL)
Winnipeg Jets (from Columbus via Vegas)–> LW/RW Kristian Vesalainen, Frolunda (Sweden)
Montreal Canadiens–> C Ryan Poehling, St. Cloud State (NCHC)
Dallas Stars (from Chicago)–>G Jake Oettinger, Boston University (Hockey-East)
Philadelphia Flyers (from Washington via St. Louis)–> C Morgan Frost, Sault Ste. Marie (OHL)
Ottawa Senators–> C Shane Bowers, Waterloo (USHL)
Chicago Blackhawks (from Dallas via Anaheim)–> D Henri Jokiharju, Portland (WHL)
Nashville Predators–> RW Eeli Tolvanen, Sioux City (USHL)
St. Louis Blues (from Pittsburgh)–> C/LW Klim Kostin, Dynamo Moscow (Russia)
Trades Made on Day 1 of the 2017 NHL Entry Draft
The Arizona Coyotes traded D Connor Murphy and F Laurent Dauhpin to the Chicago Blackhawks in exchange for D Niklas Hjalmarsson.
The Columbus Blue Jackets acquired F Artemi Panarin, F Tyler Motte and a 2017 6th round pick(170th overall) from the Chicago Blackhawks in exchange for F Brandon Saad, G Anton Forsberg and a 2018 5th round pick.
The Arizona Coyotes traded D Anthony DeAngelo and a 2017 1st round pick (7th overall) to the New York Rangers for F Derek Stepan and G Antti Raanta.
The Columbus Blue Jackets acquired F Jordan Schroeder from the Minnesota Wild in exchange for FDante Salituro.
The Chicago Blackhawks traded a 2017 1st round pick(26th overall) to the Dallas Stars for a 2017 1st round pick (29th overall) and a 2017 3rd round pick (70th overall).
The St. Louis Blues acquired F Brayden Schenn from the Philadelphia Flyers in exchange for F Jori Lehtera, a 2017 1st round pick (27th overall), and a conditional 2018 1st round pick.
The Pittsburgh Penguins traded F Oskar Sundqvist and a 2017 1st round pick (31st overall) to the St. Louis Blues and acquired F Ryan Reaves and a 2017 2nd round pick (51st overall) in return.
The time has come for my annual prediction of how the first round of the 2017 NHL Entry Draft will go. This year’s draft class is overall weaker than years past, but comes with a difficult choice for the New Jersey Devils, as they hold the 1st overall pick. The talk surrounding Nolan Patrick and Nico Hischier is reminiscent of the Taylor Hall vs. Tyler Seguin days leading up to the 2010 NHL Entry Draft in Los Angeles.
With that in mind, let’s see how many picks I get wrong (it’s an annual tradition!)– this year’s draft is being held in Chicago.
1) New Jersey Devils –> C Nolan Patrick, Brandon (WHL)
A gifted center, Nolan Patrick’s status as the long-time coming predicted 1st overall pick in the 2017 NHL Entry Draft should not be affected by his injury shortened season with the Brandon Wheat Kings. Patrick is a 6’2″, 199-pound gifted two-way player that can not only contribute in goals and assists, but brings some size down the middle for the Devils.
2) Philadelphia Flyers –> C Nico Hischier, Halifax (QMJHL)
If New Jersey doesn’t take Nolan Patrick 1st overall, then the Flyers shouldn’t really have any complaints, because either Nico Hischier or Patrick is quite the impressive steal for the 2.4% longshots at the 2nd overall pick in this year’s draft. Hischier stands tall at 6’2″, 179 pounds, and had 38-48-86 totals with the Halifax Mooseheads in 57 games this season en route to being named the CHL’s Rookie of the Year.
3) Dallas Stars –> C Gabriel Vilardi, Windsor (OHL)
Gabriel Vilardi was part of this year’s Memorial Cup champion, the Windsor Spitfires, and amassed 29-32-61 totals in 49 games played this season. He’s a two-way center that remains composed in all situations while utilizing unparalleled hands and finesse in this year’s draft. Vilardi would be quite the addition to Dallas’s prospect pool at 6’3″, 203 pounds and only 17-years-old (until August 16th, that is).
4) Colorado Avalanche –> D Miro Heiskanen, HIFK (Finland)
One can assume that the Avalanche are bound to be trading a bunch of forwards for forwards this offseason (at least), but more important than having an offense is having a defense and an offense (which Colorado has had one in recent years and I’ll give you a hint– it hasn’t been a defense). Miro Heiskanen is a 6’1″, 172-pound two-way defenseman that had five goals and five assists (10 points) in 37 games with HIFK this season and is just part one of many moves towards turning things around at Pepsi Center.
5) Vancouver Canucks –> C Casey Mittelstadt, Eden Prairie (HS-MN)
The Vancouver Canucks can begin to start thinking about their long term approach to the end of the Sedin era by assuring themselves of a strong presence down the middle. Casey Mittelstadt brings that strong presence at center by virtue of his 6’1″, 201-pound frame and tremendous skill. There’s a reason why he was named this year’s Mr. Hockey in the state of Minnesota. Mittelstadt had 21-43-64 totals in 25 games with Eden Prairie and 13-17-30 totals in 24 games with the Green Bay Gamblers (USHL) this season.
6) Vegas Golden Knights –> C Cody Glass, Portland (WHL)
For their first draft selection in franchise history, the Vegas Golden Knights are bound to select perhaps the most tactically smart playmaker of the draft in Cody Glass. The 6’2″, 178-pound, right-handed center had 32 goals and 62 assists (94 points– T-7th in the WHL) and is sure to fit right in with the Golden Knights roster and longterm plans. Vegas would be wise to let him play coming out of the draft, since Glass is perhaps the most NHL ready player besides Nolan Patrick or Nico Hischier.
7) Arizona Coyotes –> D Cale Makar, Brooks (AJHL)
The Arizona Coyotes have been stockpiling forwards (if you can believe it) in recent drafts, so this year seems to be the right time to snag a puck moving defenseman that’s committed to the University of Massachusetts-Amherst next season. Cale Makar had 24 goals and 51 assists (75 points) in 54 games with the Brooks Bandits in the Alberta Junior Hockey League this season– a 20-point improvement in as many games compared to last season.
8) Buffalo Sabres –> C Michael Rasmussen, Tri-City (WHL)
At 6’6″, 215 pounds, Michael Rasmussen is exactly what the Sabres need to compliment the already sized up centers of Jack Eichel and Ryan O’Reilly. Sheer intimidation could be one thing Buffalo banks on in the near future, thanks to their Goliath centers, but don’t let that be the only thing. Rasmussen has silky hands and had 32-23-55 totals with the Tri-City Americans this season in the Western Hockey League.
9) Detroit Red Wings –> RW Owen Tippett, Mississauga (OHL)
Owen Tippett has been drawing comparisons to Phil Kessel (no, not necessarily because he’s a hot dogs and hamburgers guy– though we haven’t asked him– but rather, because Mike Morreale of NHL.com says so). The 6’0″, 200-pound, right winger had 44 goals and 31 assists (75 points) in 60 games with the Mississauga Steelheads and is a natural sniper.
10) Florida Panthers –> C Martin Necas, Brno (Czech Republic)
Martin Necas is a versatile center that can create space for the puck and generate offense with his playmaking mindset. The right-handed shot had seven goals and eight assists (15 points) in 41 games with Brno this season. Florida shouldn’t be too concerned with his 6’0″, 167-pound frame, considering they’ve got a good mix of forwards to balance things out while Necas works on adding some muscle to his game.
11) Los Angeles Kings –> C Elias Pettersson, Timra (SWE-2)
After missing out on this year’s Stanley Cup Playoffs, the Los Angeles Kings fired their now former head coach (Darryl Sutter) and general manager (Dean Lombardi) and immediately replaced them with John Stevens behind the bench and Rob Blake as GM, so trying to predict who they’ll draft is difficult based on recent history. However, Elias Pettersson (19-22-41 totals in 43 games with Timra) might just happen to fall into their hands at 11th overall. He’ll need a year of seasoning before appearing in the Kings lineup.
12) Carolina Hurricanes –> D Timothy Liljegren, Rogle (Sweden)
After a bout with mononucleosis in November, Timothy Liljegren wasn’t fully able to rebound this season with Rogle BK, however his skating remains unparalleled as one of the better defensemen of the draft. Liljegren can join the rush and pinch in from the point when needed in the offensive zone and scouts have yet to see the full potential impact of his style of play. Given the uncertainty surrounding Carolina’s money-puck strategy and how it will affect their blue line, drafting Liljegren might provide some security.
13) Winnipeg Jets –> C/LW Klim Kostin, Dynamo Moscow (Russia)
Klim Kostin missed a lot of time thanks to a shoulder injury, but that shouldn’t stop the Winnipeg Jets from taking a chance on what might be the best Russian forward in the draft. Puck possession is Kostin’s middle name and his 6’3″, 196-pound frame certainly must have something to do with that. The Jets could use him down the middle or restructure their wingers around the Kostin model, albeit acknowledging Blake Wheeler‘s size and existence already in Winnipeg.
14) Tampa Bay Lightning –> D Juuso Valimaki, Tri-City (WHL)
Steve Yzerman may continue to be a master of the salary cap (in terms of carefully maneuvering around large contracts, drafting and developing talent on a consistent basis and the like), but he’s got some critical thinking to do this offseason, what with pending RFAs galore and the Vegas expansion draft. Juuso Valimaki might be just enough to help relieve some of that pressure, having been one of the best defensemen of the WHL this season and amassing 19-42-61 totals in 60 games played.
15) New York Islanders –> C Nick Suzuki, Owen Sound (OHL)
Offensively skilled, Nick Suzuki isn’t the biggest player (5’11”, 183 pounds), but he is one of the best power play specialists in this year’s draft– notching 14 power play goals for the Owen Sound Attack this season. Suzuki had 96 points alone (45 goals, 51 assists) in 65 games and would be an upgrade for the Islanders in more ways than one.
16) Calgary Flames –> LW/RW Kristian Vesalainen, Frolunda (Sweden)
Kristian Vesalainen is a 6’3″, 207-pound power forward that might be able to muster his way to a new arena for the Calgary Flames. Jokes aside, Vesalainen would be a solid draft pick by Calgary for his physical prowess and goal scoring ability. In the Battle of Alberta, the Flames could select their very own Milan Lucic, but with more of a two-way element to his game.
17) Toronto Maple Leafs –> D Nicolas Hague, Mississauga (OHL)
How could the Toronto Maple Leafs get any better than they already are with a lineup full of kids? Answer: they could draft Nicolas Hague. Toronto’s got a plethora of players waiting to insert themselves into their mix of forwards that it wouldn’t hurt them to give a little more attention to their blue line for a bit. Hague is a monstrous 6’6″, 215-pound, shutdown defenseman that can also contribute on the power play. He had 18-28-46 totals in 65 games with the Mississauga Steelheads this season.
18) Boston Bruins –> C Ryan Poehling, St. Cloud State (NCHC)
It seems unusual to say, but the Boston Bruins have a little something on the horizon to start thinking about– what will the team look like after Patrice Bergeron (and David Krejci)? Boston GM Don Sweeney has a recent history of opting for college players and could select center Ryan Poehling with the future in mind. The 6’2″, 183-pound, playmaker has great vision and puck protection and had 7-6-13 totals in 35 games with St. Cloud State this season. Additionally, Poehling’s got intelligence (both on and off the ice) as he graduated a year early from high school and just tuned 18 on January 3rd.
19) San Jose Sharks –> D Callan Foote, Kelowna (WHL)
The San Jose Sharks have some big names to re-sign this offseason, including Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau. Naturally, while one might think the Sharks should use this draft to find their eventual replacements, San Jose is already in a good spot regarding forwards. Their blue line, however, could use someone like the 6’4″, 212-pound, likeness of Callan Foote. He had six goals and 51 assists (57 points) in 71 games this season and is sure to follow in the foot(e)steps of his father, Adam Foote.
20) St. Louis Blues –> LW Eeli Tolvanen, Sioux City (USHL)
A 30-goal-scorer in 52 games played with Sioux City this season, Eeli Tolvanen brings just about every offensive element the St. Louis Blues are looking for in a forward. He can shoot from just about anywhere on the ice– at any time too. Quick with his feet, Tolvanen can snipe an impressive shot. Don’t let his 5’10”, 170-pound setup fool you, this winger is ready to become even better at Boston College in the fall. After a couple of seasons of losing vital veteran forwards, the Blues get a chance for redemption by bringing in a goalscorer that could soon be skating on a line with Vladimir Tarasenko.
21) New York Rangers –> LW Jason Robertson, Kingston (OHL)
In 68 games with the Kingston Frontenacs this season, Jason Robertson (6’2″, 192 pounds) had 42 goals and 39 assists for 81 points. He knows what to do with the puck and with the unwavering uncertainty of Rick Nash‘s longevity, along with the legitimacy of Jimmy Vesey and others as impact players when you need them the most (like in the playoffs, for example), Robertson is a risk worth taking. He’s only a risk because his skating game could use some improvement.
22) Edmonton Oilers –> C Lias Andersson, HV71 (Sweden)
Lias Andersson is a mobile two-way forward that matches grit with nifty hands that generate scoring chances, as evidenced by his 9-10-19 totals in 42 games played with HV71 in the Swedish Hockey League this season. At 5’11”, 198 pounds, Andersson is the right fit for the Edmonton Oilers lineup, where he can increase his offensive skill by learning from Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl, while taking a page or two from Milan Lucic in the physical game. Additionally, his father, Niklas Andersson, is currently a scout for the Los Angeles Kings and played in 164 career NHL games.
The Coyotes have two 1st round picks in this year’s draft and they’d be smart to take a forward with their second pick. Luckily, Shane Bowers is just the player for Arizona. The Boston University-bound center scored 22 goals and had 29 assists (51 points) in 60 games for Waterloo this season. The 6’1″, 183-pound forward models his game after Jonathan Toews, which wouldn’t be a bad thing for the Coyotes to have in their prospect pool with a clear need for a stable, solid, two-way center.
24) Columbus Blue Jackets –> RW Kailer Yamamoto, Spokane (WHL)
At 5’8″ and 153 pounds, Kailer Yamamoto is not a player to overlook. Why? Because he scored 42 goals and had 57 assists for 99 points (6th in the WHL in scoring) in 65 games with Spokane this season. Yamamoto is relentless on the puck and has hands beyond his years, as well as speed and skill that make him quite the threat on the ice.
25) Montreal Canadiens –> LW Maxime Comtois, Victoriaville (QMJHL)
After acquiring Jonathan Drouin from the Tampa Bay Lightning this offseason, the Montreal Canadiens have made great strides at improving their group of forwards. But with the uncertainty of everything panning out as planned, why not add to the plan? Maxime Comtois is versatile and ready to take the next step in his professional career with the right guidance (*ahem* Claude Julien‘s system). Best inserted on the wing, Comtois had 22-29-51 totals in 64 games with Victoriaville this season. The 6’2″, 200-pound forward could play center if the Canadiens see it fit.
26) Chicago Blackhawks –> D Urho Vaakanainen, JYP (Finland)
Chicago is bound to have a tough offseason in a non-Cup year for the first time in a while, it seems, what with the Expansion Draft, as well as the salary cap working against their favor. While the Blackhawks may have to deal a top-4 defenseman or part of their core group of forwards (without getting too crazy, mind you, we’re not talking a trade involving Patrick Kane), Chicago can rest assured that Urho Vaakanainen is their defenseman of the future. The 6’1″, 185-pound blue liner is good at 1) getting the puck out of the zone and 2) playing his game– and a physical one at that.
27) St. Louis Blues (from Washington Capitals) –> D Conor Timmins, Sault Ste. Marie (OHL)
An offensive-minded defenseman with a right-shot, Conor Timmins fits the bill for the St. Louis Blues. At 6’1″ and 185 pounds, Timmins can rush the ice as a two-way defenseman who contributed 61 points (seven goals, 54 assists) for the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds in 67 games this season. Think Colton Parayko, but not, because this guy’s name is Conor Timmins and he doesn’t already play for the Blues.
28) Ottawa Senators –> C Josh Norris, USA U-18 (USNTDP)
A product of the United States National Team Development Program, Josh Norris had 23-28-51 totals in 52 games played this season. The 6’1″, 192-pound center could contribute to the Senators organization in a manner similar to how Colin White has been implemented into the roster. Who knows, he might be worth it, Ottawa.
Tremendous hockey sense and intelligence are part of Kole Lind’s game. A natural playmaker, Lind was also known to produce goals of his own for the Kelowna Rockets this season, amassing 30-57-87 totals in 70 games played. The 6’1″, 178-pound right winger could be a solid fit alongside the likes of Jamie Benn and Seguin in Dallas.
30) Nashville Predators –> C Robert Thomas, London (OHL)
Hey look it’s Rob Thomas from Matchbox Twenty! Again, I’m only kidding. This Robert Thomas of the London Knights had 16-50-66 totals in 66 games this season as a two-way forward. A noted playmaker, Thomas reads and reacts to the play before him beyond his years and will need some time to really come into his own at the NHL level. Yet, the Nashville Predators can afford to take their time carefully crafting the almost 6′, 188-pound, center in their system that’s produced the likes of Colton Sissons, Pontus Aberg and many more in recent years.
31) Pittsburgh Penguins –> D Henri Jokiharju, Portland (WHL)
It took Henri Jokiharju a few months to really transition to the North American style of the game, but for this offensively focused defenseman, that wasn’t a big deal. He can get the puck out of his own zone with ease– not just with crisp passes, but also due to his incredible stride and speed in the transition department. Jokiharju (6’0″, 180 pounds) had nine goals and 39 assists (48 points) in 71 games for the Portland Winterhawks this season.
Other top potential 1st round prospects that should easily be 2nd round picks if they’re not taken in Round 1 of the 2017 NHL Entry Draft:
G Jake Oettinger, Boston University (Hockey East)
LW Isaac Ratcliffe, Guelph (OHL)
D Pierre-Olivier Joseph, Charlottetown (QMJHL)
D Erik Brannstrom, HV71 (Sweden)
LW Filip Chytil, Zlin (Czech Republic)
C Aleksei Heponiemi, Swift Current (WHL)
G Michael DiPietro, Windsor (OHL)
LW Matthew Strome, Hamilton (OHL)
C Antoine Morand, Acadie-Bathurst (QMJHL)
LW Tyler Steenbergen, Swift Current (WHL)
So there you have it. This is how I see the 1st round of the 2017 NHL Entry Draft shaking out. Be sure to tune in next Friday night (that’s one week from now) to watch your favorite team pick a teenager and hope for the best. I’ll be at work that night, so no spoilers, please. Let me believe I got more than two picks right for once.